By George Wuerthner
Like zombies rising from the dead, legislators continue to push the flawed notion that logging can preclude massive wildfires and protect communities. The Emergency Wildfire and Public Safety Act of 2020, introduced by Senator Steve Daines (R–Montana) and Senator Dianne Feinstein (D–California), is another example of the failure of our politicians to use science to guide effective legislation.
The legislation's goal is to reduce wildfire impact on communities, but the bill is more a giveaway to the timber industry than a panacea for large wildfires.
Climate and weather drive all significant wildfires, not fuels. Extreme fire weather includes low humidity, high temperatures, drought and, more importantly, high winds. If you have high winds, you cannot stop or slow a wildfire by logging or any other "fuel reduction."
If fuels were the primary cause of large wildfires, Oregon and Washington's coastal forests would be ablaze. These forests have more fuel per acre than a hundred acres of mountain woodlands. But there are virtually no fires in these coastal forests. Why? Because the climate is cool and moist
However, when you have extreme fire weather, nothing stops fires — until the weather changes.
The legislation would reduce environmental regulations and public oversight while fast-tracking logging far from communities and homes. It calls for the creation of "fuel breaks" of up to 3,000 acres (an acre is approximately the same size as a football field). Never mind that large wildfires regularly eject embers that can cross extensive areas without any fuels. For instance, the Eagle Fire in Oregon in 2017 jumped the mile-and-a-half width of the Columbia River.
Numerous researchers have emphasized that it is the home's flammability that determines the vulnerability of houses to wildfire. Logging miles from communities provides no added benefits in reducing wildfire threat, but it does impose environmental impacts.
For example, logging roads are a chronic source of sediment in streams, damaging trout waters across the West. Since most ignitions start on or near roadways, more roads ironically will increase the likelihood of more fires. Logging also increases the chances of fire by putting more fine fuels on the forest floor and opening the forest to drying and wind penetration. Logging also compacts soils, spreads weeds and disturbs sensitive wildlife.
Logging also reduces carbon storage and releases far more carbon into the atmosphere than wildfire. Thus, ironically, this legislation will contribute to more significant carbon dioxide emissions, which are the main factor in climate warming, which creates favorable conditions for wildfire spread.
None of these "costs" of logging will get serious consideration if this legislation is passed.
Some might say all these impacts are worthwhile if logging prevented large wildfires. But the science is clear on this topic, and the overwhelming evidence is that thinning/logging can't preclude large climate and weather-driven blazes.
The Daines-Feinstein legislation is misguided. The best way to assist communities is to provide financial resources to improve the resistance of homes to wildfires and community preparedness. Long term, we must also address carbon dioxide emissions, which are the ultimate source of climate warming driving large wildfires.
George Wuerther is an ecologist who has written several books on wildfire ecology.
This piece originally appeared in the Idaho Falls Post Register.
Photo by Tommy Hough
By Tommy Hough
If you haven't taken a moment to see or comment on potential development updates and zoning changes to the Mira Mesa Community Plan, you can to do so via this city webpage. The page leads you to development options in four different areas of Mira Mesa and Sorrento Valley, including:
Mira Mesa Gateway – This is the area incorporating the Islands shopping center and Edwards Cinema plaza immediately to the west of I-15, and north of the Legacy Apartments complex and Miramar College. To address concerns I've been hearing about this one, while the Village Green and Woods senior mobile home parks along Black Mountain Rd. are included in the development proposal zone, none of the plans apparently under consideration affect those locations.
Mira Mesa Town Center – This includes the shopping center areas north and south of Mira Mesa Blvd. east of Reagan Rd. and west of Camino Ruiz, and including a sliver of the southeast corner of Mira Mesa Blvd. and Camino Ruiz and the Mira Mesa Medical Mall area on the northeast corner, where the new Jollibee is going up behind IHOP.
Sorrento Mesa – This is broken down into three development options across Sorrento Valley, including the open commercial space near Qualcomm at the northeast corner of Mira Mesa Blvd. and Pacific Heights Blvd. just west of the Residence Inn; the Barnes Canyon Rd. corridor west of Lusk Blvd.; and the commercial area west of Camino Santa Fe, north of Flanders, and south of Mira Mesa Blvd. which could be zoned for dense housing.
Miramar Gateway – The north side Miramar Rd. west of I-15 and east of Camino Ruiz is an area already within the region's development footprint that could be "neighborhoodized" with some zoning changes and conversions of industrial and office park space into housing, with stories added in the course of conversions and renovations. This is also along what could be a good transit route on Miramar Rd., and could one day be an anchor for a trolley extension between UTC and I-15.
In the case of the Mira Mesa Gateway and Mira Mesa Town Center, you can select current zoning options if you want nothing to change, and there's an opportunity to leave comments at the end. While I've previously advocated for repurposed and renovated housing along the north side of Miramar Rd, no one's going to confuse me with being pro-development, and I'm generally not impressed by the "pretty pictures" that so often accompany development package proposals.
The questions to be considered for the proposals posted at the city site are how will they look in 10 or 20 years, how will they integrate into or improve their respective neighborhoods, and what kind of unforeseen traffic impacts may come with them? Some of these details can be addressed over time by a matter of code enforcement, something the city continues to lack active action on.
None of the zoning or development proposals currently being considered relate to the pending Stone Creek and Three Roots developments along Carroll Canyon. Construction on Three Roots could begin as early as next year at the southeast corner of Camino Santa Fe and Carroll Canyon Rd. The much larger Stone Creek development was just approved by the Mira Mesa Planning Group at the Vulcan quarry on either side of Camino Ruiz at Carroll Canyon Rd.
By Tommy Hough
Since co-founding San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action in 2014, I've spent a great deal of time writing, giving presentations, and making comments on conservation, in part to break the cycle of sprawl development in our backcountry.
I did much the same during the run of Treehuggers International on FM 94/9, and produced shows like the one posted here to give listeners pause about the impact of the never-ending cycle of suburban sprawl around San Diego County, mostly to build expensive housing unaffordable to most working San Diegans, far from jobs and transit.
Of course, I've been applying my conservation ethic and environmental advocacy for nearly 20 years, going back to a series of pieces I wrote for the Seattle Times detailing the need for comprehensive firefighting strategies and questioning the need to aggressively fight wildfires, or engage in prescribed burns and habitat destruction in the name of fire suppression in the hinterlands, miles from communities or private property. While managing communications at Oregon Wild I similarly had a front row seat for many of these conflicts between development, wildfire risk, and "defensible space."
I try not to carry a one-size fits all or myopic mindset with me, and I realize each proposal has its individual attributes. But since my arrival in Southern California I've come to value the unblemished open space of chaparral communities and ecosystems that make San Diego County so special and ecologically diverse, contrasted with the overdevelopment, sprawl, and denuded landscapes just to the north of us in Riverside County.
If you were to have taken a drive north on I-215 to Menifee at the time this show was recorded in 2008, and then turned east to go towards Hemet through Diamond Valley, perhaps via Domenigoni Parkway, you would've found a largely empty grassland, but still a functional wildlife corridor amid encroaching suburbia. Today, that encroachment has arrived, and the valley has come to typify the differences between our two counties toward development.
Now, road signs in Murietta, Menifee, Perris, and Diamond Valley aren't placed by municipalities or governments, but by housing speculators and developers. Rows of flags guide you to perfectly-graded, valley-wide expanses of earth like the wide shot of Marty McFly's Hill Valley neighborhood in 1955, with newly-poured concrete slabs quietly waiting for water and gas hookups. Despite what some of the giant billboards may advertise, these aren't affordable housing developments. They never will be.
While northern San Diego County is particularly rugged and hilly and perhaps not as suitable for development as the flatter valleys of Riverside County north of Temecula and Lake Elsinore at the base of the San Jacinto range, the blankets of chaparral that give Southern California its cooling backcountry green as its largest native ecosystem remains naturally contiguous throughout. To say it is misunderstood and frequently maligned would be an understatement.
Which brings me to this show. This episode of Treehuggers International features my friend Rick Halsey, the founder and director of the California Chaparral Institute, who was a frequent guest on the show and, at the time, a member of the San Diego Regional Fire Safety Forum formed in the wake of the 2003 Cedar Fire and 2007 Witch Creek Fire.
This particular episode is from Rick's second appearance on the show, recorded Oct. 2, 2008, and broadcast a few days later on Sunday, Oct. 5. While I never posted this episode on this particular page, I thought it was worth sharing now, 12 years later, because we're still talking about so many of the same issues, threats, and dumb behavior when it comes to our attitudes about wildfire in relation to the state's largest natural ecosystem. So much of this conversation remains so relevant it could've been recorded last week.
Rick and I were initially planning to talk about then-Supervisor Bill Horn's penchant for "fuel clearance," and the wanton destruction of perfectly healthy natural habitat in our backcountry, but the conversation also veered toward the impact of recent wildfires on old-growth chaparral stands in San Diego and along the Central Coast, how to make communities safer from wildfire, the future of Rancho Guejito, the use of goats in fuel clearance projects, and some bad behavior on the part of the U.S. Forest Service and a brush-crushing masticator (!) that devastated a virgin stand of chaparral in the Santa Ana Mountains.
Tom Petty once said, "People may be slow, but they ain't deaf." I hope that's true. I hope if policymakers and the public hear Rick Halsey enough times they'll start to get the cotton out of their ears and think about their positions on conservation, on sprawl at any cost, and think through the long-term effects of "managing" the natural environment that nature already manages for us.
Thanks as always to Rick for being my guest in 2008, and for continuing to speak on these same critical matters a dozen years later.
Santa Ana Mountains and Hauser Wilderness photos by Tommy Hough
Chaparral masticator photo by Jeff Kuyper
By Tommy Hough
Earlier today I made remarks to the San Diego County Board of Supervisors regarding Sheriff Bill Gore's request to pursue potential bids for outsourced mental health and basic medical care services to inmates in the county's seven jails.
Ultimately, the board voted 4-1 in support of the sheriff's request, thereby beginning a process in which the sheriff's department may explore bids from private contractors – despite the fact some 300 county employees already work as nurses, clinicians, and other health professionals in the jail system, and could lose their jobs as a result.
As Jeff McDonald reported in the San Diego Union-Tribune, dozens "testified during the hearing that workplace morale is poor, largely due to a perception that Gore does not value their work," but ultimately the board's Republican majority "denied Supervisor Nathan Fletcher's plan to flatly reject the sheriff's proposed outsourcing model."
My remarks today before the Board of Supervisors follow:
Good morning, my name is Tommy Hough, I live in Mira Mesa, county district three.
I'd like to ask you to vote no on this item.
It's disappointing to hear this pathological persistence on the part of some in government to outsource what, in my mind, are the most basic services that are already being capably handled by county employees. The answer is not outsourcing. The answer is getting these dedicated and able employees the support and resources they need to effectively do their jobs for the public and those incarcerated – not for shareholders.
We're not talking about who fills the vending machine, we're talking about who supplies, and who makes, mental health services and life and death decisions.
There's already been a great deal of scrutiny as to what's called the Private Prison Industry, and there should be. The idea that any entity, especially a multi-billion dollar business, is making money, hand over fist, in this nation on the incarceration of other human beings – and in the case of the sheriff’s department, individuals often awaiting trial – is not consistent with what we believe our nation's values to be, or our county's.
Incarcerated individuals and those awaiting trial must have a meaningful level of care. My neighbors deserve to keep their jobs with the county serving their neighbors in the Sheriff's Department – and for-profit companies must never run prisons or jail services.
Please vote NO on the sheriff's proposal to outsource and privatize these critical services.
Photo courtesy of the San Diego County Sheriff's Department
By Trip Jennings
Federal agents shot me in the face last night while I was covering the Black Lives Matter protests in Portland. It should be obvious to everyone by now that black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) face a higher risk of violence at the hands of police than I do. I'll never know what it's like not to be white, but protests do provide an interesting moment for white people when our privilege doesn't protect us.
Friends feel free to share. Media, do not repost without permission.
To everyone who believes that the only people who get hurt at protests are those who have been violent, that's wrong. To those who think it is only "other people" not like you, that is also wrong. I am a professional journalist, a father-to-be, I run a business, I create jobs for other people. I'm a landlord, a neighbor, a friend, and I want to live in a world where black people and all BIPOC feel the freedom I normally do. I hope to help by telling stories and bearing witness.
On the night of Saturday, July 25, I was shooting photos from the center of the crowd when federal agents suddenly became more aggressive, firing lots of tear gas and impact munitions into a large group of people.
I retreated with the group, stumbling through Chapman Square and across the street in clouds of tear gas. When I reached 4th Ave. and got out of the thickest tear gas, I stopped to figure out my next step. A line of federal agents (and possibly PPB) walked through the tear gas cloud on Salmon St. toward the very dispersed group of people around me. We quickly walked away on Salmon, following dispersal orders.
Then, there was a sudden barrage of impact munitions fired around me. I ducked behind a car. Protesters in the street were positioned behind shields being pelted with pepper balls, foam balls, and maybe some sort of paintball and/or rubber bullets. I captured a few images and waited. Once the shooting stopped, I used the moment to try and get a safe distance from the advancing federal agents. I walked swiftly, hands and camera in the air, ducked behind a tree some distance down the block, and turned to see if I was far enough away to be safe.
As I turned, I was pelted with what I think were pepper balls. One hit the lens of my gas mask on my left eye. The plastic broke, lacerating my eye, eyelid, and cheek. I knelt down to assess and when I realized I could walk and see, I ran to 5th Ave. and began asking folks to help me find a medic. Shortly, three medics responded. I took my gas mask and helmet off and one said, "Oh my God, that's bad." I cannot say enough good things about these medics. I am beyond grateful for their work, but that reaction wasn't my favorite part.
In a moment we were in their car on our way to the hospital. Unfortunately, the car was facing downhill toward the troops. They had advanced and we had to pull forward to leave the street parking. In a moment they were surrounding the car, pointing flashlights and guns at us. I pressed my face close to the window, pointed to my now very bloody face, and yelled "hospital." The medics slowly backed up as the feds shot the vehicle with more impact munitions. No windows were broken. On the way to the hospital, we drove through clouds of tear gas so the windows stayed shut and the pepper spray on my clothing and bag choked us all.
In urgent care, the doctor left the room multiple times as the pepper on me caused her to cough uncontrollably. She wore a respirator to stitch my eye. As I left the hospital near sunrise, another protester was being admitted with the same injury.
I have the option of going to a protest and putting myself at risk of police violence. Or I can choose to stay out of harm's way. For black Americans, there is no opting out of the risk of police violence in everyday life. This was incredibly scary and stressful for my wife and I, but we know we only have to experience this once in a while, and when we do it's often by choice. Many people in our community live with this fear every day. This has to stop, and we have to make this change. Black Lives Matter.
Trip Jennings is a producer and videographer with Balance Media and National Geographic. He and his wife live in Portland.
By Tommy Hough
With the naked display of state-sponsored fascism on the streets of Portland as the Department of Homeland Security wages a terror campaign against the citizens of an American city, and the threatened deployment of federal paramilitaries throughout the U.S. by President Trump and the unprecedented step it brings toward police state authoritarianism, consider Martin Niemöller's cautionary poem "First They Came," written in 1946 following the defeat of Nazi Germany and the end of World War II.
A theologian, pastor, and opponent of the Nazi regime, Niemöller led an influential Lutheran congregation in the Berlin suburbs at the time the Nazis came to power, and wrote his poem about the cowardice of German intellectuals and his fellow clergymen during the rise of the Third Reich, and the regime's incremental undoing of the rule of law, especially after the violence and summary executions of the Night of the Long Knives in 1934, and the implementation of the racist Nuremberg Laws in 1935, which robbed German Jews of all aspects of citizenship and civil rights. We know what followed.
Niemöller was first arrested by the Nazi regime in 1937, and was a tried by a "special," i.e. kangaroo court for crimes against the Reich. While the court eventually released him due to the number of months he'd already been in jail, Hitler's deputy Rudolf Hess had him seized by the Gestapo immediately afterwards, and he was imprisoned in Sachsenhausen and later Dachau concentration camps until the end of the war in 1945.
Since Niemöller wasn't formally arrested, as he had been before, there was no recourse to his seizure. There was no due process either, despite the fact Niemöller was a lawful citizen. He was simply snatched away extrajudicially and detained, without a trace. The Nazis called this "night and fog."
After a trial run on the streets of San Diego in June, that exact same behavior is now being applied by federal paramilitaries in Portland, and the administration freely admits this model will soon be applied in other cities.
This administration is taking hostages with little legal recourse, and making examples of "disloyal," almost entirely Democratic-run cities. In this manner, the administration may bargain their way into concessions for the November election in a protracted and deliberately exhausting legal procedure. In Trump's mind, this is the art of the deal.
We are facing our greatest constitutional crisis since the Civil War, which ended 155 years ago in 1865, but never really ended. It takes demagogues like Trump to follow the examples of despotic regimes and his own inner toxicity to use our nation's faultlines and divisions as a means of enhancing his power, rather than working to bring our nation together the way a normal, responsible human would be inclined to do.
But should Trump lose the November election, or otherwise be removed from power, he's well aware he will no longer be protected by a cloak of presidential power. He, his family, and many of his subordinates will deservedly face trial and imprisonment on multiple fronts and charges. And given Trump's own words and the extraordinary machinations of state power already being given free rein, set against the backdrop of the deadliest pandemic our nation has faced in 100 years, there is no reason to expect the president won't use every despotic means available to remain in power, even as every authoritarian move he makes belies his own impotence and lack of real power.
So where are the Jade Helm conspiracy theorists now? Where are those who claim wearing a face mask is "tyranny?" Pay attention to those remaining silent at this moment of actual tyranny.
If you're unable to stand against the authoritarian tide being incited by a decadent executive branch, which isn't even pretending to take "incremental" steps anymore in dismantling 244 years of our democratic traditions as it attacks non-violent protesters, you may bear a resemblance to the narrator of "First They Came."
Because someday, perhaps sooner than you think, "they" may come for you, in the midst of night and fog. And who will stand for you then?
The original version of Niemöller's "First They Came" is:
First they came for the Communists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Communist
Then they came for the Socialists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Socialist
Then they came for the trade unionists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a trade unionist
Then they came for the Jews
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Jew
Then they came for me
And there was no one left
To speak out for me
Actor Rafael Casal wrote an updated version of the poem for the Trump era last year:
First they came for the immigrants
And I did not speak out
Because I was not an immigrant
Then they came for the children of immigrants
And I did not speak out
Because I am not a child of an immigrant
Then they came for the brown and black
And I did not speak out
Because I am neither brown nor black
Then they came for the politicians
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a politician
Then they came for me
And there was no one left
To speak for me.
By Maureen Healy
Since June, I have been attending peaceful protests in Portland neighborhoods in support of Black Lives Matter. I have gone with family and friends. I am a 52-year old mother, and a history professor at Louis and Clark College in Portland.
I went downtown yesterday to express my opinion as a citizen of the United States, and as a resident of Portland. Of Oregon. This is my home. I was protesting peacefully. So why did federal troops shoot me in the head Monday night?
I was in a large crowd of ordinary folks. Adults, teens, students. Moms and dads. It looked to me like a cross-section of the city. Black Lives Matter voices led the crowd on a peaceful march from the Justice Center past the murals at the Apple store. The marchers were singing songs. We were chanting. We were saying names of black people that have been killed by police. We observed a moment of silence in front of the George Floyd mural.
I wanted to, and will continue to, exercise my First Amendment right to speak. Federal troops have been sent to my city to extinguish these peaceful protests. I was not damaging federal property. I was in a crowd with at least a thousand other ordinary people. I was standing in a public space.
In addition to being a Portland resident, I am also a historian. My field is modern European history, with specialization in the history of Germany and Eastern Europe. I teach my students about the rise of fascism in Europe.
By professional training and long years of teaching, I am knowledgeable about the historical slide by which seemingly vibrant democracies succumbed to authoritarian rule. Militarized federal troops are shooting indiscriminately into crowds of ordinary people in our country. We are on that slide.
It dawned on me when I was in the emergency room and had a chance to catch my breath (post-tear gas): my government did this to me. My own government. I was not shot by a random person in the street. A federal law enforcement officer pulled a trigger that sent an impact munition into my head.
After being hit I was assisted greatly by several volunteer medics. At least one of them was with Rosehip Medic Collective. To take shelter from the tear gas I was hustled into a nearby van. Inside they bandaged my head and drove me several blocks away. From there my family took me to the emergency room. I am grateful for the assistance, skill, and incredibly kind care of these volunteer medics.
We must take this back to Black Lives Matter. Police brutality against black people is the real subject of these peaceful protests that have been happening in my city and across the country. What happened to me is nothing. It is nothing compared to what happens to black citizens at the hands of law enforcement, mostly local police, every day. And that is why we have been marching.
That is why I will continue to march.
Professor Maureen Healy is the chair of the history department at Lewis and Clark College in Portland. She was shot in the head by federal agents on the night of Monday, July 20, and is recovering from the injury and concussion. Thanks to Margie Boulé for sharing Professor Healy's story and statement.
Remarks Before the Environment Committee on Consideration of San Diego's Franchise Utility Agreement
By Tommy Hough
For the first time in 50 years, San Diego is renegotiating its franchise agreement with San Diego Gas and Electric (SDGE) in a decision that will have sweeping ramifications for our city, giving the powerful Sempra utility exclusive rights to use the city's public right-of-ways for transmission and distribution of electricity, along with the ability to install wires, poles, power lines, and underground gas and electric lines.
Originally signed in 1970, the 50-year franchise agreement comes to an end on Jan. 17, 2021, presenting San Diegans with an extraordinary opportunity to reboot and set new terms for our region's transition to a renewable energy future, including opportunities for a municipal energy provider.
As usual, I had more remarks prepared than time available, so here are the entirety of my planned remarks before the San Diego City Council Environment Committee:
Good afternoon, my name is Tommy Hough, from Mira Mesa.
I'd like to request this committee and council delay any kind of decision on a future franchise utility agreement until the public has had a meaningful opportunity to consider this matter, and for a public debate and discussion to occur before council again considers this.
So many things have changed over the last 50 years since the current agreement was implemented, an era in which no one thought twice about the use of coal, or coal-fired power plants to power our nation, and an era in which solar and renewable energy was still largely the realm of science fiction, even as manned missions were successfully landing and exploring the moon.
I'm not sure how or why anyone in 1970, at a moment when change and technological innovation was as rapid as the rate change we experience today, thought that 50 years was a reasonable length of time for a city of our size to be committed to one utility vendor, especially without having a full, public discussion over the benefits of a municipal, community-owned utility.
While SDGE engages in generous community philanthropy, has invested in an extraordinary power infrastructure in our corner of Southern California, and does a marvelous job keeping the lights on with a grid that we know needs to be updated, my neighbors and I pay some of the highest power rates not just in California, but in the continental U.S., in a locale where solar and renewables should be the most efficient and the most cost-effective.
Ultimately, SDGE's parent company, Sempra, is no friend to the ratepayer. They are the friend of stockholders paying top executives. Our city should have nothing to do with that kind of arrangement at citizen expense.
Indeed, Sempra has revealed itself on several occasions to be a rather poor community partner. Just recently it formed and deployed a lobbying arm that was dead set on stopping community choice energy even after the utility had pledged to move forward as a partner in the concept. In 2015, when SDGE was making its initial inroads into the San Diego County Democratic Party, a company representative attempted to shift "blame" for rate hikes on the poorest San Diegans away from SDGE and onto those who use solar and renewable energy in a shameful, shocking display of public gaslighting on the floor of a central committee meeting.
This city should not handcuff itself to this utility for any longer than five years at a time, so that we as a community may more fully consider the opportunities of a municipal provider that is answerable to We the People, not Wall Street, that will not leverage the kind of political influence Sempra and SDGE does now, and will not work at cross purposes with energy efficiency initiatives that threatens their bottom line.
Please delay a decision on this matter today.
By Tommy Hough
In a surprise move, the San Diego County Board of Supervisors has opted to reject the long-running Lilac Hills Ranch proposal. Called "unsafe" by Cal Fire San Diego Unit Chief Tony Mecham at today's hearing, and recommended for denial by county staff in a highly unusual move, Lilac Hills was one of our region's most persistent and durable "zombie projects."
Initially denied by county planners in 2009, and at the ballot box with the defeat of Measure B in 2016, Lilac Hills was a loser with the courts, voters, and fire safety professionals. Hopefully the cycle of approving reckless sprawl developments in fire-prone areas is, at last, reaching an end.
My remarks today before the Board of Supervisors follow:
My name is Tommy Hough, I live in Mira Mesa. I'm the V.P. for policy and former president of San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action, and I support the staff recommendation to reject the Lilac Hills development.
In 2016 our organization was active in the effort to defeat what was then Measure B, which was the Lilac Hills ballot measure. As you may recall, it was soundly defeated, as residents throughout the county made it clear, as they did again with Newland Sierra on the primary ballot this March, that sprawl development must not be the future of this county, and is not the highest or best use of the rural areas and open space in our county.
We are not Riverside County, and this county should make it a point of pride to resist the temptation to throw open our wildlands, watersheds, and wildlife corridors to sprawl housing developers as has occurred there. If you take a trip north on the 215 to Perris and head east to Hemet, the signs along the road aren't placed by counties or municipalities, but by sprawl housing developers. You know their names. It's clear who holds sway there. It is not a future we should embrace here.
When I ran for San Diego City Council in 2018, I often spoke about our housing crisis, and cited areas within the district I was running in (District 6) where denser housing is a functional option that would require some tweaks to zoning laws, but would enable residents to live within our already-established urbanized footprint, near transit, and the abundant employment centers in our district in Sorrento Valley, Mira Mesa, and Kearny Mesa.
Furthermore, to claim that any of these homes or housing are truly affordable for average San Diegans, is a gross distortion. Unless we're talking about developer-subsidized, or government-subsidized housing, it will NOT be affordable for the majority of working San Diegans. And housing should not be predicated, anywhere, on the false premise that "affordable" housing at the level this area clearly needs can be achieved by setting aside a required percentage of homes that developers can simply buy their way out of. This is to say nothing of the wildfire danger, and significant greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) for new miles traveled to and from manufactured cities in our backcountry like that proposed with Lilac Hills.
It is no longer 1980, and the cycle of approving these reckless developments in fire-prone areas must end. Stop putting citizens in harm's way. There is nothing safe or responsible about this project. Please approve the motion and support the recommendations of staff and county fire in opposition to the Lilac Hills zombie project that was so soundly defeated when it was on the ballot four years ago.
By Tommy Hough
Maxim One: Everything that Trump comes in contact with, good or bad, innocent or guilty, dies an early death in reputation, career, conscience, or lifespan.
Maxim Two: If Trump touches or meddles with anything you love or cherish, like our environment or our democratic heritage or humanity in general, it too will die an early, ugly death (see maxim one).
Maxim Three: Donald Trump is President of the United States, and will continue to inflict maxims one and two on all of us until he is driven from office.
When Ryan Zinke, the most corrupt Secretary of the Interior of our modern era, moved to redraw the boundaries of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments in Utah in 2017, it was an unprecedented act of desecration, and a terrible harbinger for our nation's conservation heritage that will only become more pronounced and destructive should Donald Trump win re-election in November.
Prior to the sheer awfulness of the Trump administration, no president or administration had ever moved, erased, altered, or so violated the set boundaries of parks or monuments, certainly not to facilitate oil and gas interests, thereby undoing the very reason they were established as monuments in the first place: to protect them from environmental destruction and exploitation. Certainly no one has ever even attempted to do so in a manner as transparent and craven as Trump.
But this is an administration that, in three short years, has:
That's a partial list, of course.
Dating back to the administrations of Theodore Roosevelt and even Abraham Lincoln, the idea of erasing the boundaries of protected places was considered cowardly, reckless, needless, and defiant of well-worn American traditions of conservation, however imperfect they may be from time to time.
One of the more notable, and uglier, exceptions to this was the construction of the O'Shaughnessy Dam along the Tuolumne River at Hetch Hetchy in Yosemite National Park, from 1919 to 1923. Abhorrent as it was, it was voted on in broad daylight as an Act of Congress for maximum culpability, and didn't physically alter the boundaries of Yosemite National Park. But there's no doubt the stress of the Hetch Hetchy tragedy is what killed John Muir.
The lesson was crystal clear: Parks and monuments, intended for the benefit of all Americans, are not placeholders until some other project comes along. The resources protected within them are sacrosanct.
Previously, presidents and politicians understood that areas protected for conservation had often been the subject of frequently intense, long-term campaigns by communities and generations of activists. After all, National Parks and National Monuments don't fall out of the clear blue sky. They are established because committed citizens demand these areas be saved. Long before and long after John Muir, careers and lifetimes have been spent to preserve such places.
Notable instances in California include the campaigns to save surviving ancient Redwoods and end old-growth logging on federal public land, the lengthy effort to preserve the Stanislaus River, the decades-long fight to preserve the wildest expanses of the Mojave Desert, and more recently, the campaign to Save Trestles and stop repeated efforts to build a toll road through the backcountry of San Onofre State Beach along the length of San Mateo Creek.
In erasing the intent, meaning, and boundaries of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante in 2017, the Trump administration deliberately set a terrible, dangerous precedent, and now they're at it in California as oil exploration (!), i.e. the precursor to drilling, begins at Carrizo Plain National Monument along the border of Kern and San Luis Obispo counties, on the southwestern edge of the San Joaquin Valley.
Established by President Bill Clinton in 2001, the monument was intended to preserve the native grasslands of this otherwise unusual depression along the San Andreas Fault in a "land that time forgot" that explodes into extraordinary springtime wildflower shows, and prevent the same kind destruction wrought by the oil extraction that goes on around it for 50 miles in each direction in a network of Chevron and Shell oil and fracking fields, some of which are the size of cities. Now, like other affected National Monuments, Carrizo Plain faces an uncertain future.
Further north in the Central Valley, Giant Sequoia National Monument in Tulare County was similarly put on notice in 2017, and sold out by that county's own board of supervisors, who applauded the move (!) and even asked Trump to shrink the monument. Sickening.
If we hope to preserve our nation's natural heritage and spirit of preservation – to say nothing of the nation itself – then Donald Trump and his destructive anti-leadership must be soundly defeated and driven from office like the environmental and Constitutional criminal he is.
To use an oil and water example, this president and a healthier planet are simply incompatible. As he has demonstrated on far too many occasions when he has turned American against American and neighbor against neighbor, from his Central Park Five accusations to Charlottesville and Lafayette Square, Trump's lifetime of toxic words, deeds, and destructive rhetoric have revealed zero interest or capable curiosity in crafting a more perfect union or bringing our nation together.
Trump is the toxic darkness that seeks to divide, conquer, and pillage. No amount of light or empty riches will ever satisfy his corrupt heart. In any ordinary era, he would've been a disaster. In the midst of actual crises like a pandemic and unchecked foreign interference in our elections, to say nothing of our nation's social reckoning in the wake of George Floyd's murder at the hands of police, Trump is anathema to democratic traditions (see maxim one).
Staring out into the emptiness from the steps of St. John's Church on June 1st, shortly after he and his pack of jackals followed White House security forces that literally gassed and beat the shit out of citizens gathered along the route, waving a Bible around as a cheap prop for all to see, Trump became the living embodiment of Vishnu in his cruelest form. From the Hindu text of the Bhagavad Gita, it was Trump revealing his soulless, blackened heart to our nation and its people: "I am become Death, the shatterer of worlds."
Plenty of us already knew, of course, long before Trump took the oath of office. That toll continues to be played out on our nation, our people, and our future. On refugees jammed into coronavirus-ridden concentration camps, kept in cages on freezing concrete floors. On families willfully and deliberately separated, tossed into the wind for maximum angst and emotional trauma. On black men and women harassed and murdered by police who turn off body cameras and use chemical weapons not even used in warfare.
And on our wild refuges of America, heretofore and hopefully left untouched by today's daily Washington psychodramas. Our long national nightmare of Trump continues.
A San Diego broadcast and media personality, Tommy Hough is a wilderness and conservation advocate, communications professional, California Democratic Party delegate, and the co-founder and former president of San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action. He ran as the endorsed Democratic candidate for San Diego City Council in District 6 in 2018.